Personal budgets rhetoric versus reality - how to bridge the gap
My name is Sally Percival, I co-chair The National Co-production Advisory Group and The Think Local Act Personal Partnership, but more importantly I care for my son Alex and my mother Audree both of whom have a personal budget that I manage.
Alex’s personal budget has made an enormous difference to family life. We employ four members of staff to support him and they help him to engage with activities that are meaningful to him and give me a well-earned break. My mother also has a personal budget for support with dementia and her complex health needs. Her direct payment enabled her to come out of a care home where she was really unhappy and to be supported at home.
Directing our own support is so important and ensures that choice and control remains us. It is without doubt the most effective way to organise our social care.
However, a lot of the information and advice I receive talks about ‘banking hours’ and flexible working. What we are not told and what social workers don’t appear to understand is that when you become an employer you have to comply with employment law.
My employees have bills and mortgages to pay, so it is impossible to employ three people for eight hours a week then decide you don’t want them to work for four weeks so you can bank enough hours to go away for a holiday and then pay one member of staff to go with you. This week it was suggested by our senior social worker that I bank up all of my hours for a year and then have six weeks off, which must have sounded plausible to her! However in order to do this I would have to make two members of staff redundant at a cost of around £3,500, have no respite for 46 weeks and then find someone who is willing, able and compatible with Alex to work for six weeks straight. This of course isn’t possible with the laws around working times, nor did this suggestion look at the impact on our whole life. Alex would never manage six weeks away from me and his home and why would I want such a long holiday unless my partner had the same time off.
The other important difficulty with banking hours, which affects most people in Cumbria in receipt of a direct payment, is that people were forced onto prepayment cards, ensuring that Cumbria County Council hold the finances, so if people manage to save some money it is removed from the account as excess funds; in Cumbria you are limited to 2 months funds.
It may sound like I am dissatisfied with directing our own support but I genuinely believe it is the best way. There are things, however, that could make life easier; social care staff need to fully understand the realities of managing a work force, including basic employment law and an ability to look at people and families as a whole and not compartmentalised lives operating in silos.
So in brief personal budgets do work but there is a gap between what we are told and what really happens. This gap could be narrowed with a little bit of training and understanding.